Updated February 26, 2022 by Mark Marino
There are two kinds of people who ask this question: People who believe the answer will be simple, and people who believe the answer will be complicated. Both are looking to confirm their belief. Both are wanting to make sure that they are right before they commit to a course of action that could harm their little green friends.
And this is a wise thing to do. And if you must know, between the two of those options, watering plants is a more simple process than it is a complicated one. Really, the “how” of watering plants is the simple part. It is the “when”, “where”, and “why” that is less simple.
Watering houseplants can be done with just a tall glass of water. Fill the glass to the top and pour it onto the soil of the plant. Even if this ends up making the plant look like a swamp, do not worry. This is a result of how fast the soil can absorb the water. No one instance of watering a plant will drown it.
Because that is one of the biggest concerns of watering plants: Over-watering. The other big concern is under-watering, amusingly. Honestly, that is the concern you should be more concerned about. It is more common for plants to dry out than it is for them to drown. Remember that plants are built to design floods, not draughts.
When Should You Water Houseplants?
The best time to water houseplants is in the morning or evening. This is because watering them in the morning prepares them for the day, giving them water to help them photosynthesize while watering them in the evening cools them off. Cooling them off is important, as plants retain a lot of heat, and retaining too much will dry them out.
This is somewhat an oversimplification, but if you are new to taking care of plants in your home then you are likely looking for broad strokes more than nuances. Think of watering them in the morning to be like giving plants their morning coffee, while watering in the evening is giving them a bath after a long day’s work.
How Do You Tell If A Plant Needs To Be Watered?
This rule of watering plants in the morning and evening is all well and good, but it carries with it some assumptions. It assumes that your plants are in an environment of perfect equilibrium. It assumes that they get a reasonable amount of sunlight to shade and that the heat is not so great that they are consistently dried out.
Draughts are becoming more and more common as greenhouse gas emissions not only warm the planet but extend and intensify summers. Whereas forty years ago seeing plants wilt in the heat of a window was pretty uncommon, nowadays it is something you are going to have to deal with every summer.
Given that, it is a better time than ever to learn how to identify, diagnose, and treat a plant’s needs, particularly when it comes to dryness and watering it. As you might expect, it all starts with looking at and feeling the soil.
Plants are watered by pouring the water directly onto the soil they live in. You probably know this already. But what you might not know is that this “topsoil” that the water makes contact with will almost always be a little moist. This means two things for you: The first is that if the topsoil is dry, then the plant itself is in danger.
The second, less obvious thing to look for is actually under the topsoil. See, because the topsoil is almost always moist, it can actually hide the real problem. If your plant is seeming dried out despite your repeated attempts to keep it consistently watered, then try mixing the soil around a bit.
What you should be trying to do is stir the soil up so that the topsoil is no longer the topsoil. Get it so that you can see and feel the soil underneath. If the soil under the topsoil is dry, then you know why your plant is drying out: Because the plant is drying out faster than the topsoil is.
This is why plants are deceptive. The topsoil dries out slower than the rest of the plant no matter what. The plant has no control over this, it is just a matter of chemistry. You have to take the initiative to understand what is going on with the plant. If you wait for it to tell you what is wrong, you will wait forever.
How Frequently Do You Need To Water Plants?
You can usually tell how much water a plant needs and how much water is enough simply by watching the soil absorb it. Water and soil go hand in hand because of this. You need to keep the soil healthy, and you keep it healthy by watering it.
Humans have an intuitive sense of how soil absorbs water, and if you watch closely, you can see when the soil begins to absorb less of it than before. Now, you should keep in mind that it is possible to over-water plants. However, it is far easier to under-water plants. You should be more scared of the latter than the former.
For that reason, you should water your plants once a day and give them as much water as you think they can take. Simply water them until the soil stops immediately absorbing the water. This will give them plenty of water, and only doing it once a day will mean you do not over-water your plants.
The thing is that people who are new to taking care of plants tend to be nervous. They can develop bad habits, such as watering their plants more than three times a day. This will lead to the plants quickly drowning. You do not need to water your plants that much. Water them thoroughly once a day and it will be enough.
No matter how nervous you are, inexperience is only temporary. And remember, plants are built to grow back. They are built to survive. No mistake is permanent as long as you are willing to keep trying.